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Moral DNA?

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on April 24, 2009

Please, someone, tell the priests to go tend to their rituals and quit pretending to ha have any understanding of reality. A new archbishop has tried to use biology to argue for his archaic moral position, and I just want to slap him.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan yesterday said advocates of gay marriage “are asking for trouble,” arguing that traditional, one-man/one-woman marriage is rooted in people’s moral DNA.

“There’s an in-built code of right and wrong that’s embedded in the human DNA,” Dolan told The Post in an exclusive, wide-ranging interview, a week after becoming the New York Archdiocese’s new leader.

“Hard-wired into us is a dictionary, and the dictionary defines marriage as between one man, one woman for life, please God, leading to the procreation of human life.

Every word an ignorant lie. There is no genetic basis for a moral code except, perhaps, in the broadest sense of intrinsic rewards for social behavior — Catholicism is not biologically heritable.


Pinniped Evolution

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on April 24, 2009

The joke is getting so overused now it is becoming a cliche in skeptical circles – what happens when a paleontologist fills in a gap in the fossil record? They create two gaps, one on each side. But it is often used because it pithily exposes the intellectual buffoonery of those evolution deniers (aka creationists) who deny common descent. What is a “gap;” how big does it have to be to call into question common decent; or rather how small do the gaps have to shrink before creationists will accept common descent?

Perhaps the biggest outright lie in the creationist camp, still frequently parroted, is that there is a lack of transitional fossils in the fossil record. That is why it is important to showcase to the public the steady stream of beautiful transitional fossils that are being added to our already copious fossil record.

In the most recent issue of Nature, scientist present yet another pesky gap filled in with a transitional fossil, this one an early pinniped – which includes seals, sealions, and walruses.

The fossil is between 20-24 million years old and is dubbed Puijila darwini. Here is the technical description from the Nature article.

The new taxon retains a long tail and the proportions of its fore- and hindlimbs are more similar to those of modern terrestrial carnivores than to modern pinnipeds. Morphological traits indicative of semi-aquatic adaptation include a forelimb with a prominent deltopectoral ridge on the humerus, a posterodorsally expanded scapula, a pelvis with relatively short ilium, a shortened femur and flattened phalanges, suggestive of webbing.

What this means is that the creature was able to walk on land, was likely a carnivore, but had some early adaptations to the water, such as webbed feat. Think of an otter (it was 110 cm long) with a long tale and the teeth of a dog.  The earliest pinniped fossils come from 20-28 million years ago, about the same time as this fossil, and already have fully developed flippers.

This fossil suggests answers to several unknowns – what evolutionary path did pinnipeds take, what are their closest relatives, and where greographically did their evolution take place? This fossil suggests they evolved in the fresh waters of the arctic, as opposed to the the northwestern US, where the earliest pinniped fossils were found. This one fossil does not settle this last question, but does suggest the arctic as a viable alternative.

I can anticipate the standard creationist denial. They will argue that this fossil cannot be a direct ancestor to pinnipeds because it is as old, and not older, than the earliest pinniped fossils with fully formed flippers.  This is true, as the authors of the Nature article readily state. Most fossils will not be direct ancestors to living descendants. This is because evolutionary relationships are bushy – they are not a ladder of linear progression. A randomly discovered fossil is therefore likely to be on a side branch, not one that lead directly to species that happen to be extant.


Doctors criticise ‘gay treatment’

Posted in News by Skepdude on April 24, 2009

Plans to promote medical treatment for homosexuality at a religious conference have been criticised by doctors.

The event will hear from prominent American psychologist Dr Joseph Nicolosi who said he had helped many people to become heterosexual.

But the Royal College of Psychiatrists said there was no supporting evidence and such treatment could be damaging.

The two-day conference being held in central London has been organised by the church group Anglican Mainstream.

Prejudice and discrimination’

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) said there was no evidence that the treatment worked, and that it was likely to cause considerable distress.

An RCP spokesman said: “There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.

“Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”


Tip of the skepticap to Evolved and Rational.

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Do antivaccers play a social function?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 24, 2009

I received a comment on my last posting which directed me to a blog entry titled “The Social Function of Vaccine Resistors“, which makes an interesting claim, specifically that the Jenny McCarthy’s and Jim Carrey’s of this world play an important social function that they should be honored for? Puzzling, to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a Physician Assistant and have had my own kids vaccinated.   Our vaccine system is incredibly safe and is still improving.  But it must always be remembered, that pharmaceuticals only have our best in mind as long as our best entails our purchase of their products and thus they are not to be trusted.

I don’t quite understand the argument here. I do not think for a second that Big Pharma has our best interest in mind. As any and all other corporations out there, it is in the business of making money. That’s its main purpose. It has its, and its shareholders, interest in mind. It’s job is to sell drugs, the point though is that these drugs won’t sell if they do not work. At the end of the day, doctors must prescribe which drugs a patient takes, so that’s why Big Pharma must make its due diligence to ensure that the science is right, or else doctors will not prescribe it’s medicine. This is the checks and balances that make the system work, not crazy anti-vaccine lunatics. And guess what, when Big Pharma goes bad, and do unethical things, it is not the anti-vaccers that expose the wrong doing, not ever! Being vigilant is not the same as making unwarranted statements, endangering people’s lives and spreading misinformation.  We need to be vigilant, yes, but not idiots!

Though these companies also are a huge benefit to our country, to safe guard from their dark side, our society has evolved several checks.  I feel that the vaccine resistors are part of that natural check system and should be honored as such.  Many of the safety checks in our present system exist exactly to appease the errors pointed by earlier resistors.  We never want to make laws to stop the resistors.

First, of course we do not want to make laws to stop the resistors, no one in their right mind would even entertain such a thought. Freedom of speech allows them to say whatever they want, no matter how ridiculous it may be. Secondly, and most importantly, no they do not deserve to be honored at all. You know who deserves to be honored? The scientists carrying out the research to address these crazy lunatics’ screams. They are the safety checks that we need, not Jim Carrey, not Jenny McCarthy. What’s there to honor about someone who refuses to accept the evidence? What’s there to honor about someone who thinks they know more than the scientific establishment, about scientific issues? I do not understand how we can honor ignorance and arrogance in any way?

I think it is wise to realize that though vaccine resistors may make bad decisions and harmed themselves or their loved ones.  Their resistance has helped you.

No they have not! There is nothing beneficial that is coming from the works of the anti-vaccers, no gains to be had whatsoever. These people are a peril to society and we must expose them as much as we can, not give them some medal of honor. Should we honor the flat earthers? The white supremacists? They are to be exposed and ridiculed at every opportunity not honored, and so deserve the anti-vaccers.

So, to answer the question asked in the title: NO, they play no useful social function at all, not anymore than a spreading cancer plays a useful biological function for the organism it has invaded.